Nuclear Plant Shutdowns Linked With Higher Emissions

Nuclear Plant Shutdowns Linked With Higher Emissions

In 2019, nuclear power facilities in New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania closed out of concerns about safety and pollution. But over the last two years, CO2 emissions from power plants have risen by almost 15% in New York, 12% in New England, and 3% in Pennsylvania.

Why This Matters

This increase in emissions has magnified the worldwide debate about the role of nuclear power in fighting climate change. Nuclear power does not seem like the most sustainable option since there isn't any infrastructure for storing nuclear waste. But nuclear power is an important source of low-emission energy. It provides the majority of America's green energy -- producing 52% in 2020 -- and the European Union included it as a "green investment" in its new, sustainable investment taxonomy system. Because of this, many are reconsidering the role of nuclear power in the world’s grids, like French President Emmanuel Macron, who proposed to build up to 14 new nuclear reactors.

Reuters: 2021 saw jump in greenhouse-gas emissions, says report, January 10, 2022.

Third Way: Why We Need To Save Our Nuclear Power Plants, February 3, 2022.

Going Nuclear

As the debate over nuclear becomes increasingly polarized, some are looking for a middle ground. When nuclear plants close, there needs to be careful long-term planning to ensure that the fossil fuel industry doesn't take over, explained Jackson Morris to Politico. Morris leads the climate and energy program for the Natural Resources Defense Council in the eastern US.

"It is about foresight," he added. "There is no reason that we can't chart a course that would provide enough renewables and allow for organized retirement."

Others suggest nuclear is a short-term solution that can supplement less controversial energy sources like wind or solar. As the effects of climate change worsen, the most important goal is limiting emissions however possible, which makes nuclear a more attractive option.

"Today, the impacts of climate are so tangible you can taste it in your mouth," Michael Wara, a researcher who studies energy policy at Stanford University, told Politico. "It isn't polar bears or something in 2050 about sea level rise. It's now. It's affecting where you want to live and how safe your kids are. So maybe you're willing to take a risk on an old nuclear power plant on a fault line?"

WW0 Newsmaker of the Week: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Director of Climate & Energy, Third Way, December 17, 2021.

Vox: Why nuclear plants are shutting down, October 21, 2021.